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Old 01-29-2020, 07:14 PM
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When did stand up comedy become popular?


Obviously people have been making jokes since the evolution of human speech. Thereís been humor in drama since at least Shakespeare.

But, the idea of paying money to see a person on stage with nothing but a microphone trying to make you laugh, when did that begin? Iím thinking maybe George Carlin? Iím thinking vaudeville was a different form of entertainment although stand up comedy could have evolved from there.
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Old 01-29-2020, 07:27 PM
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Originally Posted by dalej42 View Post
But, the idea of paying money to see a person on stage with nothing but a microphone trying to make you laugh, when did that begin? Iím thinking maybe George Carlin?
I guess by the letter of the OP not long after 1876.

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The first microphone was invented as a telephone transmitter by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. It was a liquid device that was not very practical.
In 1877 a carbon-button microphone was patented by Emile Berliner in 1877. It was one of the first ever created and by far the most usable.
In 1886, Thomas Alva Edison invented the first practical carbon microphone.
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Old 01-29-2020, 07:35 PM
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Originally Posted by dalej42 View Post
Obviously people have been making jokes since the evolution of human speech. Thereís been humor in drama since at least Shakespeare.

But, the idea of paying money to see a person on stage with nothing but a microphone trying to make you laugh, when did that begin? Iím thinking maybe George Carlin? Iím thinking vaudeville was a different form of entertainment although stand up comedy could have evolved from there.
Vaudeville featured stand up comics over a hundred years ago.
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Old 01-29-2020, 07:49 PM
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Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce started their careers in the early 50's, so they predate George Carlin, at the very least.

And as has been pointed out, "monologue comedians" started in the late 1800's as part of variety shows. Comedians performing stand-up routines in nightclubs date back to before WWII.

I believe the first "comedy clubs" started to pop up in the 60's, but that was to accommodate the popularity of existing standup comedy, not to create the genre.
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Old 01-29-2020, 08:50 PM
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This cite suggests that the first stand-up routine was performed by Charley Case sometime in the 1880s or 1890s:

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Thereís a lingering question about stand-upís development, however: Who was the first person to actually do it? Some scholars point to Charley Case, an African-American vaudeville performer. According to Eddie Tafoya in his book The Legacy of the Wisecrack, in the 1880s or 1890s Case got on stage in New Yorkís vaudeville theaters and did something no one had ever done: He performed comic monologues without props or costuming.
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Old 01-29-2020, 08:56 PM
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At least as far back as the Romans.
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:02 PM
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The question in the title wasn't what's the earliest stand-up comedians but when it became popular. So how about the early 20th Century, in the Borscht Belt resorts?
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:12 PM
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Mort Sahl is the name I have always heard as the first modern stand-up comedian. I know George Carlin talked about him in one of his interviews. George Carlin became a lot more famous than Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, but he seemed to always credit them. Mort Sahl for telling stories. Lenny Bruce for intentionally crossing the line whenever possible.

TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan, helped make stand up comedy more popular.
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:23 PM
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Mark Twain "was in great demand as a featured speaker, performing solo humorous talks similar to modern stand-up comedy."
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:39 PM
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I don’t think Mort Saul did anything Will Rogers wasn’t already doing decades earlier. The only difference is Mort didn’t know any rope tricks.
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:42 PM
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It's been popular for well over a century. Vaudeville featured what we would call stand-up comedians in almost every show. A further parallel is that some of these -- Jack Benny, Will Rogers, Morey Amsterdam, Edgar Bergen -- went on to become actors.
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Old 01-29-2020, 11:02 PM
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Originally Posted by dalej42 View Post
I’m thinking vaudeville was a different form of entertainment although stand up comedy could have evolved from there.
A lot of the single-performer "Song and Dance" routines included early elements of modern standup. A "talkie" short from 1923, A Few Moments with Eddie Cantor, is a good example of (very dated) material. Most modern standups don't sing, but I can think of a few later examples, including George Carlin's Wonderful WINO routines, Steve Martin's King Tut, and, more recently, Jim Breuer's AC/DC impressions.

Last edited by whitetho; 01-29-2020 at 11:03 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 11:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Miller View Post
This cite suggests that the first stand-up routine was performed by Charley Case sometime in the 1880s or 1890s:

Quote:
Thereís a lingering question about stand-upís development, however: Who was the first person to actually do it? Some scholars point to Charley Case, an African-American vaudeville performer. According to Eddie Tafoya in his book The Legacy of the Wisecrack, in the 1880s or 1890s Case got on stage in New Yorkís vaudeville theaters and did something no one had ever done: He performed comic monologues without props or costuming.
It's not clear if Case was black. He certainly didn't look black. He may have been black, white, or of mixed race. He performed in blackface.
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Old 01-29-2020, 11:59 PM
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At least one author says Bob Hope was the first modern stand up comic. Telling jokes about what as happening in the world and in his life. Not that he was the first to tell jokes in front of an audience but the first to do so in a style that is still recognizable in comics today.

https://www.wbur.org/npr/366137941/t...edian-bob-hope

Even into the 50s and 60s many comics had a style that was much different than what goes on today. It seems very stiff and formal. They would introduce a bit and tell the audience the the premise and then go into a character and act out the bit. Bob Hope was always just Bob Hope telling jokes.
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Old 01-30-2020, 04:55 AM
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It's not clear if Case was black. He certainly didn't look black. He may have been black, white, or of mixed race. He performed in blackface.
That link seems broken. And "he didn't look black" is a non-starter of an argument.
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Old 01-30-2020, 11:51 AM
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That link seems broken. And "he didn't look black" is a non-starter of an argument.
Itís not really an argument. Itís thought that he was mixed but at this point no one really knows and no one is likely to ever know for sure. He performed in blackface but at the time both white and black performers did.
https://travsd.wordpress.com/2011/09...-charley-case/
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Old 01-31-2020, 04:08 PM
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Sure, Ed Sullivan regularly had stand up acts on his show and on and on back into the mists of time.

But the key change in stand up came about with Steve Martin. He was selling out arenas. He performed in stadiums.

And he quit it in 1981 because it got too big to deal with.

Carlin and Pryor were big. But not this big.

Now you have folk like Jim Gaffigan performing in large venues. (He even did a thing for the Pope with a crowd estimate of 1.5 million.) That didn't used to happen.

What was the largest crowd Mort Sahl ever performed in front of with him as the headliner? Stiller and Meara? Charlie Callas?
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Old 02-01-2020, 10:54 AM
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Old 02-01-2020, 12:33 PM
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This thread has the usual problems with trying to pin a definition on "stand-up comedy." Comedy as joke-telling probably goes back before written history so that's a non-starter.

I'd favor a definition that elevates the stand-up to the star performer, the one act that people came to see, even though others may have performed on the same bill.

That can be used to rule out Charley Case and even Will Rogers. They were part of a full evening of many acts, live versions of the Ed Sullivan Show. Wayne and Shuster were on Sullivan more often than any other act but people tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show instead of them, just as people went to the Ziegfield Follies instead of to a Will Rogers show.

For me that puts the start of modern stand-up in nightclubs, where people really did go to see the headliner and secondarily to the club. Nightclubs as we know them emerged during Prohibition where suckers would spend outrageous amounts of money for watered-down drinks but expected to be entertained unrelentingly. A good place to start would be with the team of Jimmie Durante, Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson. They mixed jokes and music in a way that would lead to the Smothers Brothers and Tim Minchin and were so phenomenally popular that they owned their own joint, the Club Durant, before the feds raided it. (Like all speak owners, they moved down the street and opened another.)

Many made their bones at nightclubs after WWII, the schtick comics that Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce were the deliberate antitheses to. Jack E. "Fat Jack" Leonard was a Las Vegas star in the early mob days, doing his insult comedy a decade before Don Rickles thought of it. What was then called the "chitlin circuit" had its own set of headliners and could do "dirty" comedy that wasn't acceptable in mainstream. (Although white "party" performers like Dusty Warren had similar acts.) Redd Foxx's Laff Of The Party (Volume 1) in 1956 is generally credited with being the first stand-up comedy album. But Mort Sahl's "At Sunset" is credited as the first recorded modern stand-up routine because it was recorded in 1955 but not released until 1958.

Firsts are hard, but the OP's question of when stand-up became popular is easy: the 1950s. For the first time people could hear stand-up outside of the few nightclubs that specialized in it. The records were popular beyond modern belief. Bob Newhart's first two albums, though they came out in 1960 and 1961, had the top two spots on the Billboard charts simultaneously. Only The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel matched that.
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Old 02-01-2020, 01:04 PM
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The Showtime cable channel regularly did standup comedy specials. Was that a factor in standup comedy's popularity?
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Old 02-01-2020, 02:22 PM
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The Showtime cable channel regularly did standup comedy specials. Was that a factor in standup comedy's popularity?
HBO pioneered them, starting with Robert Klein in 1975. That did that because stand-up was already super popular.
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Old 02-01-2020, 02:54 PM
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Firsts are hard, but the OP's question of when stand-up became popular is easy: the 1950s. For the first time people could hear stand-up outside of the few nightclubs that specialized in it. The records were popular beyond modern belief. Bob Newhart's first two albums, though they came out in 1960 and 1961, had the top two spots on the Billboard charts simultaneously. Only The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel matched that.
You have to be careful not to conflate the popularity of long form comedic monologues with the popularity of the long playing record album. Millions of people were listening to the former long before the 1950s through the medium of radio. For that matter Will Rogers released several popular records in the 20s and 30s.
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Old 02-01-2020, 05:38 PM
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You have to be careful not to conflate the popularity of long form comedic monologues with the popularity of the long playing record album. Millions of people were listening to the former long before the 1950s through the medium of radio. For that matter Will Rogers released several popular records in the 20s and 30s.
I thought I had included this in my post, but I guess I dropped it as the post was getting too long.

I decided not to count the opening monologues that multiple radio show hosts did as stand-up because those were just a small part of a larger show. No question that a comedian's monologue is similar to stand-up, but it was also similar to their vaudeville acts. Virtually all the top comics of radio got there through the stage and most simply continued their acts and their personas on their radio shows. Structurally, a monologue is a piece of a larger whole, not a performance on its own.

As far as I can tell, Rogers only released a few recordings in 1923. All were short pieces, two to three minutes long. None can be classified as a performance. He also appeared on some recordings of radio appearances, where he was one of the acts.

He wasn't the only one to release short bits of comedy on records in the pre-war period. I won't try to guess who was first. The same objection applies to them all: they were distinctly different from the comedy albums that started appearing in the 1950s that tried to emulate the feeling of attending a nightclub and getting the live act.
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Old 02-06-2020, 04:37 PM
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Vaudeville featured stand up comics over a hundred years ago.
Yes, and music halls in the UK had comedians too. Some of them included musical interludes, but for some the main part of the act (one example is George Formby Sr) was mostly patter and jokes, with songs as only part of the act:

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Formby's career received a further boost in July 1913 when he was one of seven acts to appear before George V and Queen Mary in a Royal Command Performance at Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool. The Times reported that Formby's "broad humour succeeded with unexpected ease, and their Majesties praised him very highly after the performance."[32] Formby was embarrassed by his performance. His usual act partly consisted of a running patter with the orchestra conductor, which he again did on this occasion; behind the conductor sat the royal party, and it looked to some that Formby was speaking disrespectfully to them.
I guess that might be a little different to what we think of as stand up comedy these days though, same as American vaudeville. (I'm not sure why Miller's cite, which is otherwise interesting, claims in its headline that stand up is a particularly American phenomenon - it's been huge in the UK for just as long as in the US).

The more modern type of stand up comedy was certainly common by the 1950s. Spike Milligan and other members of the Goon Show had a famous radio show, which then moved to TV, but they had all started out live. Footlights, the drama society at the University of Cambridge, featured large amounts of stand-up comedy from early on, and launched the careers of half of British comedy through most of the 20th century.

The time when it becomes easy to think of lots of people who are clearly stand-up comedians in either the US or UK is the early 60s, I'd say.
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Old 02-06-2020, 04:47 PM
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Yes, and music halls in the UK had comedians too. Some of them included musical interludes, but for some the main part of the act (one example is George Formby Sr) was mostly patter and jokes, with songs as only part of the act:



I guess that might be a little different to what we think of as stand up comedy these days though, same as American vaudeville. (I'm not sure why Miller's cite, which is otherwise interesting, claims in its headline that stand up is a particularly American phenomenon - it's been huge in the UK for just as long as in the US).

The more modern type of stand up comedy was certainly common by the 1950s. Spike Milligan and other members of the Goon Show had a famous radio show, which then moved to TV, but they had all started out live. Footlights, the drama society at the University of Cambridge, featured large amounts of stand-up comedy from early on, and launched the careers of half of British comedy through most of the 20th century.

The time when it becomes easy to think of lots of people who are clearly stand-up comedians in either the US or UK is the early 60s, I'd say.
The Goons and the Oxbridge crowd mostly did sketch comedy, though, rather than stand-up, although the line between can be fuzzy at times. Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, say, worked in the same vein as the Americans Mike Nichols and Elaine May. I'd call both sketch comedy but you seem to define it differently.
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Old 02-06-2020, 04:51 PM
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An excellent resource for learning more about this topic is The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy by comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff.

I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
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